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Hamlin [Almost] Wins Shootout; Kyle & Joey Wreck Out

The new surface at Daytona International Speedway might have changed the style of racing slightly, but tonight’s Budweiser Shootout certainly proved that heart stopping excitement will remain the primary attribute of the famed racetrack.

On a night that saw a record number of lead changes and lap speeds well over 200 mph much of the night, all three Joe Gibbs Racing entries proved strong and worth of victory, but with the strategy favoring two-car drafts it came down to picking the right moment to make a run to the front of the field and of course, having enough good fortune to avoid the wrecks. Denny Hamlin appeared to have it done it all correctly to earn the victory, but unfortunately a drive below the double yellow lines to the checkered flag was ruled illegal by NASCAR and took the victory away from Hamlin. Meanwhile his two teammates were unable the wrecks, with Joey Logano falling victim to an accident on lap 27 and teammate Kyle Busch getting taken out on lap 36.

The Budweiser Shootout is a non-points event that has become a pre-season tradition in NASCAR since 1979. The 75-lap event is run in two segments this year. First a 25-lap run that is followed by a 10-minute trip to pit road for teams to make adjustments to the cars. Once restarted it is a 50-lap run to the finish that has become famous for exciting racing and tonight was no exception.

Hamlin proved to have the best luck of the three Joe Gibbs Racing drivers when it came to selecting his starting position for tonight’s Shootout as he pulled the fourth spot for No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota. That allowed Hamlin to team up with Tony Stewart in a two-car draft that spent much of the first 25-lap segment at the front of the field. With car shuffling in and out of the lead thanks to two-car draft runs, Hamlin would end the first segment back in the 14th position. Hamlin would deftly avoid the accidents that captured both Logano and Busch and would wait until about 20 to go to make his move to the front in a two-car draft with Ryan Newman. Hamlin would keep Newman in the lead for several laps as the race neared its conclusion. As they came around turn four for the final time Hamlin pulled down below Newman and passed him on the inside for what appeared to a photo finish victory just edging out Kurt Busch who had closed on the leaders from the outside. Unfortunately NASCAR ruled that Hamlin had driven below the track’s double yellow lines in an effort to win the race without wrecking Newman. The ruling penalized Hamlin back to the rear of the lead lap cars and a 12th-place finish, while handing the victory to Kurt Busch.

Kyle Busch started the No. 18 M&Ms Toyota in 21st position but found his way to the front of the field midway through the opening segment of racing. Busch would take the lead on lap 18 after pairing up with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. on a run to the front, but as the cars swapped position quickly he would find himself in the eighth position following the first 25-lap segment. Ten laps into the second segment Busch would get bumped from behind by Mark Martin and the two would spin across the track into the grass making contact with each other. The No. 18 M&Ms crew worked to make repairs, but ultimately Busch would be forced to take his Camry back to the garage and end his night early in 16th place.

Meanwhile Joey Logano started the night in the 22nd position in the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota, but quickly proved to have a car capable of running to the front of the field. Logano would partner with five-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson during the first 25-lap segment and the two flirted with the lead but ended the opening portion of the race in the fifth spot. Unfortunately Logano would not receive the opportunity to go for the win in the end as his night ended early when he was an innocent victim

in a wreck started just in front of him on lap 27 by Carl Edwards and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. He would end the night in 18th place.

Kurt Busch of Penske Racing captured the victory.

The starting front row for the Daytona 500 will be decided Sunday during a qualifying session at 1 PM. The rest of the line up for the Daytona 500 will be decided by a pair of Duel races on Thursday afternoon. Tomorrow’s qualifying session will be broadcast live on Fox at 1 PM, while the Duel races can be seen starting at 2 PM on Thursday.

The Great American Race will once again provide the official start to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season when Fox broadcast the Daytona 500 live from Daytona International Speedway next Sunday, February 20 at 1 PM. The race will also be carried on Sirius NASCAR radio channel 128.

Kyle Busch on The Shootout

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (Feb. 9, 2011) – Kyle Busch and the M&M’s team are shooting for several firsts as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season warms up with Saturday night’s non-points-paying Shootout, continues through next week’s Duels, and begins in earnest with the 53rd running of the Daytona 500 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway on Feb. 20.

For starters, the driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) will be seeking something he badly wants to add to his resume: his first win in NASCAR’s biggest race – the Daytona 500 – and in the process bring M&M’s and Toyota their first victory in the Great American Race.

[singlepic id=76 w=320 h=240 float=left]And while the talented 25-year-old will enter his seventh full season as a Sprint Cup competitor, this season will be his first as a married man as he wed longtime girlfriend Samantha Sarcinella on New Year’s Eve in Chicago.

Finally, Busch’s primary backer M&M’s will debut the company’s first-ever dedicated NASCAR commercial during the Daytona 500 telecast. Filmed at the close of last season at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Ga., the spot features on-track action, as well as the wildly popular “spokescandies” Red and Yellow starring alongside M&M’s driver, Busch. The TV ad will also debut the new M&M’s NASCAR advertising theme for 2011 – “M&M’s Makes Race Day More Fun” – which will play out in a variety of ways during the season.

In addition to M&M’s, Busch always has another very important thing on his mind that can make his race day more fun – winning. Nobody visited victory lane more times across NASCAR’s top three series in 2010 than the Las Vegas native.

Busch made 81 total NASCAR starts in 2010 – 36 in the Sprint Cup Series, 29 in the Nationwide Series, and 16 in the Camping World Truck Series, the latter of which he served as driver-owner of Kyle Busch Motorsports during its inaugural season. He won 24 races in all – three in Sprint Cup, a record-smashing 13 in Nationwide, and eight in the Truck Series – for an incredible winning percentage of nearly 30 percent. Coupled with his 21 overall wins in 2008 and 20 in 2009, Busch has recorded an astounding 65 NASCAR victories over the past three seasons.

But for all of that winning across NASCAR’s top three national series the past three seasons, Busch and second-year M&M’s Toyota crew chief Dave Rogers know full well that the focus of everything they do in 2011 needs to be on winning the Sprint Cup championship. The crown jewels of Busch’s title chase are three races he’s dreamed his whole racing career of adding to his winning resume – the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the Brickyard 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the aforementioned Daytona 500.

So, as Busch heads to Daytona to kick off this year’s Speedweeks, he is as determined as ever to take the Daytona 500’s Harley J. Earl Trophy back to his home in Mooresville, N.C., and lay the ultimate groundwork for a championship run in 2011.

KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:

What is your level of excitement heading into 2011?

[singlepic id=65 w=320 h=240 float=left]“I feel pretty good about it. I’m pretty confident with the guys and with the team and with the cars and everything we have with the 18 team. Toyota has come a long way and, hopefully, we can make up some more ground this year at being able to compete for the championship. Denny (Hamlin, teammate) running the way he did last year was really great for Joe Gibbs Racing, being able to be in contention until the last race. Overall, we’re all pumped up and ready to go. You sit around all winter long and you think about when the season’s going to start and it turns around and it’s here, already.”

How much ground is there to make up for you this year?

“I think anything you don’t capitalize on and any races you don’t win, any championship you don’t win, there’s obviously ground to be made up. There’s ground to be made up somewhere. With us, we just need to put the total package together and be able to go out there and reach our potential to be able to win.”

Have you pinpointed areas where you and your team can improve for 2011?

“I think we need to be better at preventing some things. Whether it’s car problems or myself losing my temper or maybe just working with Dave (Rogers, crew chief) a little better. Communication and being able to talk goes a long way in this sport now. It seems like it’s that way more than ever. It used to just be laid on the crew chief: ‘Bring me a good car and I’ll win the race.’ Now, you have to work on making a good car. The competition is so close.”

Do you feel like you are able to win a Sprint Cup championship?

“I would certainly hope so. I feel like there are a lot of ways that people try to sidetrack you, but you have to forget about that stuff and know what’s important. What’s important first and foremost is family, with what’s at home, and then, of course, you look at your career and your business and what happens here at Joe Gibbs Racing – making the most of the effort for Toyota and M&M’s. With that, we try to look forward at making the most of this year and try to bring home a championship for JGR in their 20th year.”

What type of goals do you have for race wins in your career?

“I haven’t achieved any of my race win goals that I’ve wanted to achieve since I’ve come here. I’ve achieved everything else under the sun that I’ve never thought about achieving. The ones that I really want, like the (Daytona) 500, like the (Brickyard) 400, like the (Coca-Cola) 600 – a Charlotte Cup win at all – an All-Star race, the championship, all that stuff. I haven’t gotten any of that. I’m hoping one of these days I’ll have the opportunity to win those. I don’t think it’s at the point, yet, where you’re worried about it. But when you get to be probably about 35, then you’re like, ‘Man, I only have five more chances to get some of these because they only come once a year.’  Hopefully, by then, I can have some of that knocked out.”

What does it mean for you to be the first NASCAR driver M&M’s has featured in a commercial spot?

“It’s great to be involved with the characters and I’m excited to be a part of the first M&M’S commercial about the racing program. This has been a neat experience and I’m hoping everyone likes it. It’s a little difficult to act with the characters because it’s almost like talking to nobody, but you have an idea of what the final spot will look like and you know what the characters are all about, so that makes it easier.”

Denny Hamlin on the Shootout in Daytona

Saturday’s Shootout at Daytona International Speedway will mark Denny Hamlin’s sixth start in the non-points, pre-season exhibition event.  Hamlin earned a lifetime invitation into the race with a Shootout victory in his very first try as a rookie in 2006.  The Chesterfield, Va., native captured a pole at Phoenix in 2005 — a year he made just seven Cup starts — to gain entry into the 2006 Shootout under the old format, an opportunity he took full advantage of.  Driver eligibility for 2011 is based on Chase participants from 2010, past NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champions, former Shootout winners, points race winners at Daytona and Sprint Cup Series ‘Rookie of the Year’ winners from the previous 10 seasons.  As the 2006 Shootout winner, 2006 ‘Rookie of the Year’ and a 2010 Chase participant, Hamlin is more than qualified to compete Saturday night. Hamlin finished fifth in the 2010 Shootout, behind winner Kevin Harvick, Kasey Kahne, Jamie McMurray and Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch.  It marked his best finish in the event since his 2006 victory. Starting order for Saturday’s event will be determined by a blind draw Friday night, with Hamlin’s best “qualifying effort” of fifth coming in 2009.  He started 24th one year ago.  Hamlin has led a total of 20 laps in Shootout competition — 16 in 2006 and four in 2009.

Hamlin Conversation

What are your thoughts heading into the Shootout?

“The Shootout is a fun event and it’s a race that we all want to win. It’s unique because you aren’t worrying about points, about how it’s going to affect your season. You’ll probably see guys try things in the Shootout that you won’t see in the 500 but it’s a short race and the format means that there is nothing to lose at the end. I think that’s what the fans like about this race.   We just go out there and race.”

What is your outlook for the 2011 season?

“I’m ready to go.  I feel as confident as we’ve ever been.  Every year we’ve steadily made a progression towards the top and obviously had a career year last year.  We know we can do it and we can win at all different kinds of race tracks.  For me, I think we have everything in place.  I’m keeping all of my key personnel from what we had last year.  No changes there.  Pit crew is the same.  The driver will be a little bit better.  Everything is in place to hopefully pull out a first one.”

Are you the driver to unseat Jimmie Johnson this year?

“I hope so. This is almost a free year for me. A lot of people are going to expect us to have a bad year coming off such a good year, because the expectations were so high last year.  We came through and succeeded in winning a bunch of races like we said we were.  We were championship contenders — almost won the championship.  And this year, a lot of people expect a letdown year because it’s happened to guys before. For me, I know my passion for racing, and it’s impossible for me to fail in that aspect. Unless something crazy happens, we’re going to be right back in the same position this year as what we were last year.”

How do you feel about the new points system?

“I think (NASCAR) hit it right on the head.  I really don’t think they could’ve made it any simpler for the new race fan coming into the sport or the driver that knows he’s 10 points behind.  He’s got to pass 10 cars.  It makes things so much simpler and for me it’s well understood.  I think it’s going to reward those guys that go out and win during the regular season.  It’s going to give you three bonus points.  That’s three spots — that’s like 15 points going into the Chase versus last year’s 10.  It’s going to pay to win races nowadays.”

Does the new points system change your strategy?

“I think you’re going to have to run it the exact same way. The only difference is that wins are obviously going to pay more points. I like it. Of course, we won a lot of races last year. If we don’t win any going into the Chase this year, I’m not going to like it that much, but it should pay the guy that wins. You should see a battle — a guy that’s giving it all he’s got running second trying to win the race. I think NASCAR set that up for us, teed it up for us, and now it’s up to us to go out there and put on the show.”

How do you put last year behind you to focus on 2011?

“Nothing fuels me more than losing. We’re all competitors and each one of us knows that when you finish second, it’s fuel. It doesn’t matter what sport I’m in — if I lose, I’m going to work to try to be better at it. For racing, it’s my number one passion and my number one focus to try to be the best at. We’ve gotten close to the top, we just need one more position. And I consider anything less than a championship a failure. A lot of guys will say that, but for me, finishing second in points, there’s no other room to go up other than winning a championship. Taking a step back is finishing any worse than I did last year.”